Originally from our sister publication, smallbizadvisor.ca
Proof that safety at work—both physical and psychological—is more than a nicety for employers.
A Windsor jury has found that a former Walmart assistant manager was constructively dismissed when she was forced to leave her job because of abuse from her manager. She was awarded $1.46 million.
After working for 10 years at Walmart, Meredith Boucher quit in November 2009 because of her manager’s belittling and demeaning behaviour. This harassment began when she refused to falsify logs recording cleaning frequency and temperatures maintained at various times in the food areas of the Tecumseh Road East location over the 2009 Victoria Day weekend.
Later in June 2009, Boucher was violently assaulted twice by another employee. Although she reported these assaults to her manager and other more senior management, the employee was not reprimanded or disciplined in any way.
In addition, Boucher’s manager started a pattern of harassment. An assistant manager at the time testified that she heard the manager make Boucher count skids of product out loud in front of other employees, implying that she couldn’t count. He also routinely yelled and swore at her and others. Beginning in July 2009, the manager gave Boucher the overnight shift when in the past she had predominantly worked days.
In spite of repeated complaints to Walmart’s district people manager, the company took no steps to intervene or curtail the manager’s behaviour. In fact, after meeting with a committee of three senior Walmart managers, Boucher was advised that her complaints did not warrant further consideration. The court believed differently.
As a result of an employment contract with Walmart, Boucher was entitled to two weeks of pay for every year of service because she was found to have been fired—so 20 weeks in total. The company’s responsibility in the case of constructive dismissal was not specified. Nevertheless, Walmart continued to pay her for 32 weeks after she left the company.
Although she received eight months of compensation, the Windsor jury of three men and three women held Walmart directly liable for $1.2 million plus $10,000 for the assaults. They also awarded an additional $250,000 against the manager. If she can’t collect $250,000 from her former manager, Walmart will also be on the hook for this amount because it is vicariously liable for the actions of its employee.
Sheryl Smolkin is a Canadian lawyer and journalist.